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Parent Resources

Teens and the internet

This fact sheet is part of the Teen talk: A survival guide for parents of teenagers series.

Two kids taking a selfieColleen Gengler, Extension Educator — Family Relations

Revised May 2016 by Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Department of Family Social Science.

Use of the internet is a big part of teens’ lives. According to a 2015 Pew Internet and American Life Project survey, 92% of teens age 13 to 17 go online daily and 71% of teens use more than one social networking site (SNS). Social media platforms — such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google+, Vine, and Tumblr — along with gaming sites and instant messaging, allow teens to have 24/7 access to peer networks through cell phones and other mobile devices. That allows teens to extend the time they spend with people they already know — and sometimes with those they don’t.

Typically teens stay online for longer periods than adults, are more likely to access the internet from different locations, participate in a wider range of online activities, and are more likely to try new technologies. This contributes to both potential opportunities and challenges for young people online.

The Positives

The internet provides many opportunities to teens for connection and information gathering. From the teen’s viewpoint, the internet is a place to “hang out.” According to the Pew survey (Lenhart, Madden, Smith, & MacGill, 2007), the top five activities teens use the internet for are:

If teens need to find information, they look to the internet first. Access to a wide variety of resources helps them with school projects, as well as pursuing personal interests such as pop culture, sports, and music. Looking at large amounts of data via the internet can enhance teens’ abilities to interpret and manipulate information. Other benefits include developing thinking and writing skills as they post to blogs or other online forums, and connecting with others to discuss shared interests.

The Risks

Just as parents are encouraged to monitor where teens are going, who they are with, and what they are doing, parents also need to be knowledgeable about teens’ internet activities, and talk with teens about the potential dangers of sharing personal information online (e.g., phone number, address, passwords). Here are examples of risks the internet poses.

What Parents Can Do

Most parents check what their teen does online and on social media by using web browsers’ history to check which websites their teen visited, checking their teen’s social media profile, looking through their teen’s phone calls and messages, and using parental controls for teen’s online activities (Anderson, 2016).

In addition, parents can monitor their teens’ use of the internet and make it safer by:

For home computers, parents should consider:

If parents discover their teen has visited an unacceptable website, it is important not to overreact. A conversation about how the website was found and what kind of information was being sought will help sort out the situation. For example, a teen may have accidentally found a porn site when seeking health information. Parents can help teens find credible, helpful websites and teach them to be critical consumers of information. The websites listed under “Related Resources” are a good place to start.

How Parents Can Advise Teens

In addition to establishing basic rules, parents should advise teens to:

Some parents may have challenges keeping up with their technologically savvy teen. Adults consider themselves more technologically capable than children perceive them to be. Teens can teach their parents a great deal about use of information technologies; this can be a good way for parents and teens to interact with the teen as the expert. However, parents still need to use their own life experiences to provide guidance to their children on safe internet use.


Anderson, M. (2016, January 7). Parents, teens and digital monitoring.

Lenhart, A. (2015, April 9). Teens, social media & technology overview 2015.

Lenhart, A., Madden, M., Smith, A., & MacGill, A. (2007, December 19). Teens’ online activities and gadgets.

Related resources

TV Watching — Find out how much TV your children should be watching and get ideas for limiting TV time.

Video Games: A Problem or a Blessing? — Follow these guidelines to ensure that your children's video game usage works for rather than against them.

Teens and Social Networking Websites — Get more information about social networking sites and how to monitor what your teen does on them.

Get Net WiseInternet Education Foundation — Find articles on technology use from two blogs: “Connect Safely” and “Net Family News.”

Parent Further: A Search Institute Resource for Families — Strengthen you family’s relationships through shared activities from ParentFurther.

Resources on CyberbullyingKidsHealth, from the Nemours Foundation — Get familiar with the signs and effects of cyberbullying, as well as tips for how to help and what to do when your child is the bully.

Internet Safety: What do I need to know about the internet and my child?University of Michigan Health System — Find detailed instructions on teaching your children about internet safety, taking an active role in your child’s internet activities, and more.
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